Electronic surveillance
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Much of this information applies only to the original 1990s setting. Please add updates and introduce more ideas.


In an 18 April 1998 post by Jeff McSpadden, he asked if there was anything you could do to enhance a target on the ground for detection and tracking by satellites. Responses:

  • Any recon satellite is a very bad sensor for tracking a person or even a group of people. (Nezach)
  • If you have a satellite that uses an infrared detector making something radar-reflective isn't going to make it easier for that sat to pick up the object. Making something hot won't help a radar sat, etc. You get the idea. (Nezach)
  • Bad Hollywood movies aside, IR sats are only good at picking up very, very hot signatures. A rocket exhaust plume (rocket as in space launch vehicle or ballistic missile, not anti-tank rockets) or something re-entering the atmosphere. You can't track a person with IR from orbit like they did in Patriot Games. For that you have to have the IR sensor in the atmosphere. (Nezach)
  • Photo imaging sats have the resolution to pick people out but you are still looking at the top of their head, which isn't that great for identifying people. Their lower orbits mean that there will be large amounts of time where they can't cover the area you want to look at. (Nezach)
  • Radar sats are used to track surface fleets. Trying to pick out people even with a millimetre band radar out of the background noise would be nigh impossible with current generation tech. (Nezach)
  • Of course this can all get hand-waved if you assume that satellites are using borrowed alien technology. Just assume that all the abductee's have been implanted with a chip or a crystal that resonates at a certain frequency. A satellite broadcasts a broadband signal and all implants send a pulse back out to get received by the sat which then tells whomever is operating it where those people are. (Nezach)

Road safety cameras

On 22 April 1998, an era in which many if not most speed cameras still operated with visible-light flashes, (John Gallant) wrote:

In Las Vegas, maybe 4 years ago, the city attempted to put up cameras on the freeways to monitor traffic. As Vegas was growing so quickly, the local govt. was in a rush to get all the info it could on traffic patterns so it could move its beltway plans forward. After a day or so, someone tipped a local ultra-conservative cable access show host/ATF target to the presence of the cameras. He urged "right-minded citizens" to remove the cameras. Within a week they were all shot out. At the time the city wasn't about to pay to replace them, so there was no beltway in the near future, at least by the time I left 2 years later.

The truth is, big brother is actually a bunch of balding bureaucrats in $200 suits trying to keep their cubicle-filled worlds from erupting into chaos. Kinda sad really.

Totoro25 reported “cameras up on every freeway” in Houston at the time, and NICK reported “speed cameras all over the place” in the UK, even at the time. There were conflicting reports on the ease with which different cameras could be destroyed or disabled with paint. TXPaladin also remarked:

I live in Galveston (the Isle of the Damned). I had heard that the cameras on the Houston Freeways were part of an experimental program to monitor traffic patterns.

Volunteers who wanted to be part of the program would get stickers with microchips in them to put on their cars. The cameras could pick out the micro-chips and see where cars were going at any given time where traffic might be stuck and which freeways needed to be bigger 'cause everyone was driving on them.

Of course, Texans (being the paranoid lurve gods we are) refused to volunteer for such an insane program and the cameras were useless. (go figure). anyway….your tax dollars at work.

  • It can be no coincidence that 96% of the working population in the Galveston area passes within visual range of these devices (or similar ones) over the course of a typical week. (Escutcheon)

Wall-penetrating sensors

Jon Capps vaguely remembered a device that relied on radar or sonar, that had the ability to find people on the other side of a wall, or even buried within rubble, so long as the one being sought was still alive. Apparently, it could register the signals being bounced off a person's breathing chest. The unit was rather large at the time, but research was being done to bring it down to flashlight size. It would not do anything when aimed at a wall with nothing behind it, but when aimed at a person, the slight doppler shift caused by the signal being reflected off their expanding and contracting chest would cause a light to go on or something. It also had a readout that would give range.

Graeme Price replied:

Well, there are devices that can do exactly this sort of thing used by the fire brigade back home (and elsewhere) to find people under rubble (useful for earthquakes) and also to find people in smoke-filled rooms. They do use infrared for this.

Unfortunately, such equipment is open to abuse by players. I had problems with the equivalent (thermographic cyberoptics) in Cyberpunk a couple of years back. One PC kept using thermographic (passive IR) to shoot through walls with a BFG. Eventually I had to make a Ref call and alter the item description so that it required careful calibration to have the desired "see through walls" effect and took time to get a usable image (I gather this is one of the problems with the IR gear used by firemen) meaning it was no use for shooting with except against stationary targets.

Note that anything using passive IR will only detect temperature gradients (hot person in cold room etc.) and may not be that accurate (couldn't tell between two people - except by their rough size). Detection of objects at ambient temperature (furniture etc.) will be very difficult or impossible, except by inference (ie. you can see someone sitting down, so it's reasonable to assume that there is a chair there). What it is useful for is telling where in a building someone is, or how many people there are in a room etc. Practical use (as a real-time sensor vs. moving targets) will be limited, so no using it to spot the on-rushing Cthonian! Apart from that it's all Ref. calls I'm afraid.

On 30 Jun 1998, Andrew Sturman replied:

Yes, this question often came up in both my cyberpunk and DG games. The technology I used was PMWI - Passive MicroWave Imaging, based solely on a New Scientist article on the subject last year (from their surveillance-tech special issue).

This technology is based on a small array of microwave receivers being used to detect the millimetre-wave radiation given off by warm sacks of H2O, i.e. people. Each receiving element acts like 1 pixel in an CCD camera, building up an image. Because of the longer wavelength of the radiation and the 'pixel-size' of the receivers, these images are of low resolution. So you probably can't use it to recognise individuals, but it is adequate for surveillance & targeting.

This MW radiation penetrates clothing and walls well, and is only blocked by metals. Hence to a PMWI camera a building looks like a hazy area with black metal pipes and fittings, and luminous people floating unsupported. It also has a lot of potential in airport security, since a concealed gun appears as a distinctive black shadow against the glowing body.

See also


Distilled from Ice Cave email by Viktor Eikman.

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